A lot of work I’ve been doing recently falls more under the project management and administrative support category than hands on archival work. All of my jobs have included administrative and planning tasks that many people don’t associate with public history. Getting ready ready to go public takes a lot of work. Exhibit schedules do not magically create themselves and educational programming doesn’t just happen when visitors are around.
On that frame of mind, some of the administrative skills I’ve found tremendously useful to have in my public history tool box include:
- The ability to create, implement and evaluate work flows. I gained experience creating working flows while working as a Digitization Facilitator for the Our Ontario, Community Digitization Project. That experience allowed me to learn how to organize the work of multiple staff working on collaborative and individual tasks.
- Short term and long term task management and planning. Juggling multiple projects, multiple priorities, and multiple stakeholders is fairly common in the public history world. Even more so if you are working in a smaller organization where you might have multiple hats.
- Experience in general administrative tasks such as creating conference packages, troubleshooting printers, document formatting, book binding, filing, and general paperwork. Creating good meeting minutes, agendas, and experience running meetings are also skills that can be invaluable in collaborative spaces.
- Copy editing skills. You know all those pretty exhibit labels, signage, handouts and other material created by heritage organizations? Someone had to create all of that and chances are some serious effort also went into the copy editing of the text. No one wants to see a giant sign go to print with the name of the organization misspelled on it.
- Knowing when to ask for help. No matter how hard you try you can’t be good at everything. It’s okay to ask for help you need instruction or pass on a task because it is outside of your area expertise.
This by no means a definitive list, but it’s a good place to start thinking about the different type of work public historians do. Yes, some people work purely with artifacts or archival records. But, many heritage professionals are engaged in work that requires a diverse skill set. It’s worth thinking about all the things you do that don’t fall under typical notions of heritage work.